Photo: Briles Takes Pictures via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mountainpedalscoaching80903 Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at http://www.voler.com. To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at Marilyn@MountainPedals.net, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.
The following question was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).
Weighing the Difference with Training Equipment
What are your thoughts regarding the weight of your set of training wheels versus race wheels? Should you train with the heaviest set you can find, within reason, and switch to the most aero, lightweight race-day-only set for competition? Is there any benefit to training with lightweight, aero wheels?
It seems as if consistent training with heavier equipment (wheels, bike, etc.) would only lead to more fitness and/or muscle development, resulting in impressive gains when you switch to your lightweight, aero equipment on race day. Yet, I see so many serious bikers training with wheelsets and bikes costing a king's ransom with an assumed lightweight benefit. Does any modern coaching philosophy address this directly or am I restating what is considered obvious?
Appreciate your consideration of my query/quandry.
Your idea of training with the heaviest set of wheels is interesting. Yes, training with resistance builds muscles and fitness. On-bike resistance is the most specific strength training you can do. As a bonus, the heavier equipment is usually less expensive and more durable.
However, it matters what type of events you are training for. Are you accelerating the heavy wheel repeatedly, as in criteriums or sprint training? Do you want to switch to lighter wheels for hill climbs or aerodynamic wheels for a time trial? If it’s not for a specific training effect, the main reason people use heavy wheels is to save the good ones from wear and tear. There is also something exciting about putting on your race wheels, new socks, clean handlebar tape, and the like for the big day. If you race often, saving the fast wheels for race day would be a fine approach. If you don’t, you’ll need to train sometimes on your race wheels. Without doing some training on lighter equipment, you miss some crucial preparation for race day.
Those light, aero wheels will handle differently and you want to be completely comfortable with cornering, descending, maneuvering in packs, accelerating, and handling wind. Unless you race frequently, you’ll need to train with the race wheels to ensure that you are skilled at using them.
Another consideration is checking the race wheels periodically to ensure that they can be swapped onto your bike with no compatibility problems due to chain or cog wear. With carbon rims, the brake pads need to be changed as well. Checking the equipment before race day is part of your homework.
Most importantly, the overall lighter/faster ride will tax your body differently and you want to maximize that benefit. Training at higher speeds, using less energy or achieving higher max wattage or heart rate with the faster equipment induces a neuro-muscular adaptation. This is why cyclists motorpace to peak for a competition – you go faster with less effort. You get used to going faster while you increase your leg speed and reaction time. Most people want to have the confidence that they can do the speeds required in competition too.
Bringing it down to the basics, strength training is only part of the formula. Speed is the factor that can’t be neglected in cycling. So while heavy equipment may have its place, I’d use it more in the strength building phase and swap it out as you want speed to improve. It could be as simple as changing wheels to achieve the difference in training. Now I think you’re on to something there!